According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales declined 2.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.86 million units. That's their slowest sales pace since the first quarter of 1998.
The news pushed the Dow Jones Industrials down more than 250 points on Thursday. The Dow had rallied earlier in the week due, in part, to continued declines in crude oil prices. And as Hurricane Dolly spared key infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, oil fell again. In the past few weeks, prices have declined more than $20 from their record high of more than 147.00 per barrel. And that pushed the national average retail price of unleaded gasoline down to just over 4.00 per gallon from last week's record high.
Proponents of renewable fuels like ethanol claim their products also help lower gasoline prices. But some critics blame the home-grown fuel for higher corn prices and are calling on the government to reduce the renewable fuel production mandate. This week, the federal government said it needed more time to act on ethanol.
In an effort to lower corn prices, Texas Governor Rick Perry has called on EPA to cut the renewable fuel production mandate to 4.5 billion gallons annually. The move was applauded by the Texas Cattle Feeders Association which claims ethanol production is contributing to higher beef prices.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said the agency needs more time to consider more than 15,000 public comments, and consult other departments on the issue.
Perry is not alone in blaming ethanol for rising food prices, but many economists claim soaring oil prices are the real culprit. Since crude oil and agricultural commodities are priced in U.S. currency, some say foreign demand is increased due to a weak dollar which makes U.S. goods cheaper overseas.
Food prices aside, power brokers in Washington are proposing a litany of reforms aimed at lessening America's dependence on foreign oil.
While the Bush administration and many congressional Republicans are calling for increased domestic oil drilling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is focusing on solar and geothermal energy production. The Nevada democrat also is leading the opposition to new coal-burning power plants.
Reid, a coal miner's son, briefly had the most watched video on YouTube a few weeks ago when the Drudge Report linked to a TV clip of him bashing coal-fired power plants. He says in order for renewable energy to grow, new coal plants must not be developed.
Nine percent of energy in Nevada currently comes from renewable sources. Under state law, that number must increase to 20 percent by 2015.